In 2022, Mercyful Fate needed a replacement bass player for their tour of North America and festivals in Mexico as Joey Vera was touring with Armored Saint, who were supporting W.A.S.P. The role fell to Becky Baldwin, who, in part two of this interview, discusses the experience. Part one can be read here.
Interview: Paul Hutchings
After Bloodstock, there was a two-month break before Becky flew out to America. During that time, she had a lot to contend with. Alongside Fury and life in general, Becky had to learn the songs.
I asked her how many she knew well enough to play. “I only knew the only one I’d learned before, which was Into The Coven, and that wasn’t in the setlist. I was very familiar with the songs structurally, just from listening to them because they were all just from the first two albums, which I really loved. It was a lot of practising.
“But there was a Fury tour and things in the middle, so every time I did have time at home, I was trying to spend a few hours at least working through them. There are a lot of long songs. There are a lot of complicated structures within songs. They’re not verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge. It was mostly structural. That was the hardest part of learning it, getting the right cues and stuff.
“I first started practising with the tracks that are online. Then I was sent isolated bass stems by Joey. I don’t know whether it was a live recording. I don’t know whether that was his live bass or if he did it at home, but he recorded a mix that had really loud bass, so I could hear what he was doing. That was so useful.
“I was playing along to YouTube videos of the full set because they basically played the same set list at all these festivals. It was the same as the headline shows in the USA. I even played along with the Bloodstock live performance to practise for the shows.”
Although Becky has toured in Europe, getting across the pond meant additional logistics. You may recall the issues in the summer with luggage going missing and being left for days in airports, and I wondered how Becky felt about handing over her beloved bass guitars to the airline ground crew, but there were bigger issues to ramp up the stress.
“That was very stressful, especially in the lead-up to it, because I didn’t have a hard case,” Becky says. “I normally borrow Luke’s [Appleton – Becky’s partner and member of Absolva and Blaze Bayley] when he’s not touring, and I’ve got a fly gig. But he was on tour in Greece while I was in America, so I couldn’t use his.
“Due to Covid-19 and Brexit, there’s been a shortage of the materials to make cases. The suppliers said, ‘oh yeah, we could make you one for next year, but we don’t have the materials now.’
“I’m here wanting to give them money, and they won’t take it because they can’t make me a case. I ended up borrowing one from a friend.”
If you think that was stressful, it got worse. “A few days before I was meant to fly, I had done most of the things needed, but my visa hasn’t come back from the embassy. I was starting to be a bit concerned. Was it going to be ready in time?”
Despite being assured it would arrive in time, there was no sign of it by the day she was due to fly. “Because of Covid-19, there was a huge backlog. So I ended up missing the flight to America. I ended up arriving two days late. By that time, I wasn’t stressed about literally anything else because I was so stressed about not being able to do the tour altogether. And stressed about not being able to do any of the rehearsals and just having to go straight to the show.
“That was one of the better-case scenarios. The other one was that the band were asking other bass players. Joey was saying he could do the Dallas show, which buys me an extra two days. And I’m like, okay, good, at least they’re not finding someone to do the whole tour.
“It was a very stressful time, and so the least of my worries was the bass. If I get there to America, I can find a bass, but I can’t get to America without a visa. So once that was sorted, it was fine.”
Becky’s first gig with Mercyful Fate was in Dallas on 25 October 2022. Many mutual friends quickly shared the YouTube videos on social media, and there was much joy. Becky explains the lead-up. “We did a day where we practised as a four-piece, so without vocals. But we never did a full rehearsal with the full band.”
If you’ve seen the Mercyful Fate show, you’ll know that the band enter the stage before King. Did Becky ask about positioning or the like? “That was what I was asking. Like, where do you want me to be? Is there anywhere you don’t want me to be?
“They said just feel it, just go wherever you want. Ideally, don’t walk in front of King if he’s singing, as he’s normally interacting with the audience. I wouldn’t do that anyway, so that was fine. We had to hide behind the stairs while the intro music plays. And then, when the laughter starts on the intro track of The Oath, we run around and then start. From then, it was just see how it feels.
“But then during the process of the tour, we started saying during this part, let’s cross sides of the stage. Or let’s climb the stairs. And you know, Hank and I stand at the top of the stairs and kind of rock out there. We ended up with these little routines that we do, but it took a few plays of the set.”
“In Dallas, I wasn’t as confident in where I could go,” Becky says. “I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I didn’t want the awkwardness of like bumping into King or putting someone off. You don’t know these people very well, even though it might seem like there’s some chemistry. You still don’t really know them.
“You’re just a bit shy about doing too much until later, and it depends on the stage size. Have you got room to run behind King without him stepping back onto you or something? You start to assess the situation over time and figure out what you can and can’t do.”
Becky did 14 gigs with Mercyful Fate on that initial run. 13 in the USA and one in Canada, ending in Atlanta on 16 November. Having been used to touring in a van, I was interested in the logistics of touring with a legendary outfit in Mercyful Fate. How were the travel and the arrangements?
Becky gives an overview. “We travelled by tour bus. Usually, a lot of bands sleep on the bus, and you’ll go straight from the gig and sleep overnight on the bus and then go straight to the next show, with time off in the day to do whatever and maybe soundcheck.
“We tended to sleep in the hotel room each night at the gig and then travel in the morning. It was weird because you get back to your hotel quite late, and you only get four hours sleep and then you must get up and get onto the bus.
“For the first few days, I was okay. I’m up now, so tour bus fun. Then it starts taking its toll. I was exhausted. I decided that I should get on the tour bus and go straight back to bed. I would sleep on the tour bus even though there was a hotel room there for me. I said I would just stay on the tour bus. I didn’t want to start moving at five in the morning when I’ve just got to bed a few hours before.”
Travel and hotel aside, there are other positives to being part of a top-level touring band. “Sometimes we sound check,” Becky says, “but usually after the first few gigs, we had everything dialled in and we were happy with our sound and everything. Then we didn’t sound check because everything was digital. I didn’t realise. It was quite naive of me.
“Bands travel with their own monitor systems, and everything is brought from one gig to the next. At my level of touring with Fury, the PA, monitors, mics, stands, is inhouse in each venue. Maybe when you first start gigging, you’re just playing down the pub, and you must bring your own PA. Then you move up, and the PA is provided.
“Then you move up again, bringing all the gear around with you. You’ve got these massive trucks coming with you. I didn’t know that. I felt really silly because it’s all the same equipment. You just plug it in, and then it’s the same sound.
“So, once we had that established, some of the band members would get to the venue half an hour before we go on stage. That’s so weird for me because I’m used to doing the loading. You get there from 4:00 PM, and you’re there until like 1:00 AM or 2:00 AM for the load out. So that was weird.
“I want to be at the venue, so I’d try and get over there earlier. I’d scope it out, see where things are, and wander around while there are no people there. Speak to the other bands and just try and settle in and get to know who the people are at the venue. But it’s not necessary at that level to do that kind of thing, but it made me feel better. So, I would try and get to the venue first.”
It’s totally understandable that Becky would have wanted to soak up every minute of the experience. After the final gig in Atlanta, Becky flew back to the UK to complete gigs in Ireland and Scotland, during which the now infamous van breakdown happened (check out the band’s socials to find out more and why they are not fans of the RAC).
Then Becky was back on the plane, heading out to Mexico for two final shows with Mercyful Fate. The Heaven & Hell Metal Festival was followed by Monterrey Metal Fest. Friends and fans will have seen that Becky was able to have photos with several rock and Metal icons, including Anthrax, Dave Grohl and the Metal God himself, Rob Halford.
“Yeah, it was on my agenda,” she smiles. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen. When I heard he was coming to the dressing room to meet King, I asked King if I could get a picture. I think Rob was a bit like, ‘who’s this?’ King said, ‘oh, so this is our bass player. She’s from Birmingham.’ Rob was like, ‘whoa’, he was suddenly very excited to meet me, which was really cool.”
That must have been an amazing experience, and the UK connection worked in Becky’s favour.
We’ve all seen footage of the crowds in Mexico and South America on YouTube and DVDs. Were the Mexican crowds as mad as Becky expected them to be?
“Oh Yeah, definitely. Especially the second gig. The first one was a bit more reserved for us because KISS were on after us, so I think a lot of their fans were at the front, reserving their space, and they were kind of indifferent to Mercyful Fate. I wasn’t sure that they got what we were about.
“But the second festival, we were between Behemoth and Pantera and then there was Judas Priest later in the day, so that was more Mercyful Fate type fans. They were going insane at that second one, for us and throughout the night, for the other bands as well.
“I got to stand in the audience and watch the bands, and that was really cool. The fans were coming up to me, saying, ‘Oh hey, you were on stage’, and getting photos, which was a very nice feeling.”
As the Zoom clock dipped under the two-minute mark, I suddenly realised how much more there was to discuss. As a final question, after all those highs, four days later, Becky was playing to around sixty people in an icy Merthyr Tydfil.
After such a headrush, how difficult was it for her to come back to earth? “Coming back from Mexico, I was really feeling bad about everything. But I think most of it was I was tired and I was missing people. It just felt like, okay, that’s it. It’s over. I don’t know when I’m going to see those people again. Going from not knowing them at all and then just being thrust into a month where you only see these people.
“These are your only friends. You have to meet them, find out who they are and what you do and make friends with them. Then you do that and go home for a bit. Then you come back, and it’s Mexico, and it’s fun.
“Then that’s the last time you see them, and when you say goodbye to them at the airport, you say, ‘I hope we’ll see you again.’ Having the realisation that it’s all over and those friends you met, you might never see again.
“And I may never play this kind of show again. That was really crushing. But you know, it’s not to say that I don’t love the things that I do here. It’s just different having to close that chapter so suddenly and so quickly felt really like, ‘Ouch, my heart’.”
The good news is that Becky played a blinder at that Merthyr show, proving what a professional she is. Fury completed a three-show run before Christmas, where I caught up with her briefly at the Bristol show. Again, she and the band were in fine form, Becky resplendent in her Mercyful Fate US tour shirt.
She’s in a good place, with plenty to do in 2023, albeit maybe not on the same level as 2022. But I can’t be the only one thinking that it’s only a matter of time before another band of the highest level needs a bassist, and Becky will be back on the hunt for a visa and another crazy trip.